NJ Transit Says It Will Miss Deadline for Safer Train Technology

(Bloomberg) -- Lifesaving technology aboard New Jersey Transit trains won’t be in place by a Dec. 31 deadline set by Congress, the agency’s executive director told board members.

The operator of the nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad, which leads its peers for accidents and federal safety fines, instead will shoot for a two-year extension for the project known as positive train control from the Federal Railroad Administration, according to a memo to the board by Executive Director Kevin Corbett.

“We expect to meet the FRA’s statutory requirements by the end of 2018 and receive federal approval to have PTC fully implemented on our rail system by Dec. 31, 2020,” Corbett wrote. To date, he wrote, work has been completed on 83 locomotives and 75 communications towers, and 900 staff members have been trained. Federal regulators have the authority to allow an extra two years so long as railroads show a clear path to completion.

The progress after years of missed milestones, though, has come at a cost to commuters, most who travel to New York City. The railroad has canceled trains or run fewer cars to accommodate equipment installations, compounding slipping reliability and increased crowding during eight years of funding cuts by former Governor Chris Christie. While a once nationally respected railroad declined, fares rose 36 percent.

The National Transportation Safety Board has named positive train control, designed to brake engines in danger of derailing or colliding, among the most-needed safety enhancements. Such systems, used widely in Europe and Japan, were mandated by Congress in 2008, with an initial 2015 deadline extended three years.

The technology could have prevented the deaths of eight passengers when Amtrak Train 188 derailed in Philadelphia in May 2015, the safety board concluded. Federal investigators are examining whether the system, installed but not activated on a track stretch in Washington state, could have slowed Amtrak Train 501, traveling 80 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone before it derailed on Dec. 18, killing three people.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.